Learning to Code: From Information Theory to French Theory

When and Where

Wednesday, April 05, 2023 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Coach House
Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto
39A Queens Park Crescent East Toronto, Ontario M5S 3C3


Bernard Geoghegan, King's College, London


How and why, in the latter half of the twentieth century, did theories of “code” developed around cybernetics and information theory take root in research settings as varied as Palo Alto family therapy, Parisian semiotics, and cultural theories taking root at US liberal arts colleges? Drawing on speaker Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan's recently published book “Code: From Information Theory to French Theory" (and with a nod to his undergraduate studies at Bard College in the late 1990s), this talk explores how data-driven exercises from Dutch Bali to MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) inspired these varied and diverse audiences in a common dream of “learning to code.” The result is a new history of the obscure ties linking Progressive Era technocracy and the prestige of engineering to the rise of “theory” in the humanities and social sciences.

Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan is a Reader in the History and Theory of Digital Media at King’s College London. An overarching theme of his research is how “cultural” sciences shape—and are shaped by—computing. This concern spans his writing on the mutual constitution of cybernetics and the human sciences, ethnicity and AI, and the role of mid-twentieth century military vigilance in the development of interactive, multimedia computing. His attention to cultural factors in technical systems also figured in his work as a curator, notably for the Anthropocene and Technosphere projects at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.


Cinema Studies Institute, Centre for Culture and Technology, York University Communication & Culture


39A Queens Park Crescent East Toronto, Ontario M5S 3C3